2012 Opponent Preview: Iowa Comment Count

Heiko July 9th, 2012 at 4:41 PM

Previously: PurdueIllinoisMichigan StateNebraskaMinnesota, Northwestern


Iowa fans: tweet your penitence to @AIRBHG.

Our God is an angry God / He rains destruction on running backs from heaven above. In case you missed it, Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God struck four times over the offseason:

  • Marcus Coker, Iowa's starting tailback in 2011, is suspended for the Insight Bowl; transfers to Stony Brook in January.
  • Backup Mika'il McCall endures a season in which he breaks an ankle, fumbles on his second carry back from injury, gets benched, and then gets suspended; transfers to Southern Illinois in January.
  • Backup Jordan Canzeri suffers a torn ACL during spring practice; will likely miss the entirety of 2012.
  • Incoming four-star recruit Greg Garmon is booked for weed possession after getting pulled over for an expired registration; status is up in the air, but the outlook is grim.

Iowa's tailback roster is currently decimated to the point where incoming three-star recruit Barkley Hill might get the starting nod on Sept. 1. If he's wise, he'll have asked to switch to linebacker by then.

So yeah, this sounds an awful lot like Michigan's secondary circa 2010, but the wrath of AIRBHG predates AMSHG by almost a decade. A Hawkeyenation.com post chronicles the smitten, beginning with Ladell Betts in 2001. AIRBHG's appetite for sacrifice is insatiable. By my count, no fewer than 27 Hawkeyes running backs come to judgment in the time since. Only Fred Russell made it through "unscathed" by leaving early for the NFL in 2003. He went undrafted.


The actual preview part

1000-foot view.

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Head coach Kirk Ferentz is in his 14th year at Iowa and has led his team to nine winning seasons, two shared B1G championships, and two BCS bowls. Since the miraculous 2009 season in which the Hawkeyes went 11-2 and won the Orange Bowl, however, Iowa has been cruising back to average. There's a real potential for the Hawkeyes to be below average this season.

Ferentz's $3.65 million contract goes through 2020. At the age of 56 (57 on Aug. 1 for those of you into sending e-cards), Ferentz will probably see his contract through before kicking the coaching bucket. But there's a chance he might not make it to then. No one wants a lame duck coach, and if Iowa doesn't start trending up within the next season or two it would be hard for him to avoid that label.

2012 might not save him. The schedule is on the favorable side and Iowa returns a quarterback who's had a year's worth of starting experience, but with a roster that returns just 11 starters (6 offense, 5 defense, 96th nationally) from units that were both pretty mediocre last year, along with the running back issues as mentioned above and a transition at both coordinator positions, it's hard to see the Hawkeyes being consistent enough to do much more than break even.

Still, nobody predicted Michigan to do as well as it did last season. If Ferentz is truly the coach he's reputed to be and his coaching hires prove to be the hires the program has needed, there may be some fight left in Iowa yet.


  • Sept. 1, Northern Illinois
  • Sept. 8, Iowa State
  • Sept. 15, Northern Iowa
  • Sept. 22, Central Michigan
  • Sept. 29, Minnesota
  • Oct. 6, WIFEDAY
  • Oct. 13, @ Michigan State
  • Oct. 20, Penn State
  • Oct. 27, @ Northwestern
  • Nov. 3, @ Indiana
  • Nov. 10, Purdue
  • Nov. 17, @ Michigan
  • Nov. 23, Nebraska

At first look this schedule is relatively soft. Eight home games, no marquee non-conference opponents, just two tough road games, and no Wisconsin or Ohio State. Upon closer examination it's littered with trap games and underestimated obstacles.

Iowa opens at home against Northern Illinois, a MAC team that went 11-3 last season. Definitely not a gimme. Iowa State visits next, i.e. Steele Jantz returns to repeat his demolition of Iowa's defense. Northern Iowa is another team that finished at the top of a lesser conference (MVC) so again not a guaranteed win. Central Michigan is perhaps the only team that Iowa should comfortably beat at this point.

As far as B1G goes, Indiana is the only team that doesn't have a real shot at taking down the Hawkeyes. Minnesota beat them last year (A fluke? Maybe.) and should be better this year. Northwestern has made a habit of beating teams strongly associated with corn in recent years and has an offense that Iowa has a hard time dealing with. So does Purdue to a lesser extent, and Purdue should have a much better defense than many give them credit for.

Iowa might be able to squeeze a win or two out of the heavyweights, but it's not looking likely at this point.

This schedule is as favorable as: Vanilla paste. 


X's and O's, Jimmys and Joes



I wonder if Adam Jacobi still thinks this is a thing. #ALLLOOKTHESAME

Style: MANBALL (with some no-huddle stuff that doesn't work very well) and PUNTOSAUR (except against Michigan).

Key losses: RB Marcus Coker (1384 yards, 4.9 ypc, 15 TD), RB Jordan Canzeri (114 yards, 3.7 ypc), WR Marvin McNutt (82 rec, 1315 yards, 12 TD), LT Riley Reiff, RG Adam Gettis

Top returners: QB James Vandenberg (58.7%, 3022 yards, 25 TD, 7 INT), WR Keenan Davis (50 rec, 713 yards, 4 TD), TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (16 rec, 167 yards, 3 TD), C James Ferentz

The biggest news for Iowa's offense not related to AIRBHG was the hire of Greg Davis from Texas to replace Ken O'Keefe, who left to coach wide receivers for the Miami Dolphins. Davis served as OC for the Longhorns during the Vince Young and Colt McCoy eras, but he is generally regarded as having as much to do with their success as Jim Bollman had to do with Troy Smith and Terrelle Pryor's success.

Yes, Iowa has hired Jim Bollman, basically. 



This development doesn't contrast that much with what Iowa already had going on, so we'll pretend nothing has changed. Vanilla Hawkeyes offense is vanilla.

Iowa's passing game shouldn't suffer too much this season despite losing about half of its receiver production from 2011. James Vandenberg returns a year wiser and a year more ready to deal with having no time to throw because his offensive line has occasionally forgets how to pass protect. Vandenberg was incredibly efficient last season as a first year starter, and there's no reason to believe he won't follow it up with at least a similar performance.

Except for one thing: the biggest weakness in this offense is at the running back position, as already discussed at length. The Hawkeyes run the offense Brady Hoke talks about fondly whenever Denard's not in the room, and having a bruising tailback to run between the tackles is critical for their success. Not having one is a problem. If Iowa can't threaten the run, Vandenberg might get into a lot of trouble when his receivers get locked down in coverage on every down.

Something tells me however that Ferentz will find a way to get production out of whatever guy is in the backfield. Coaching the offensive line is his thing, and they've paved the way for guys like Adam Robinson (transferred to Minnesota-Duluth after 2010), a two star out of high school, to become All-Conference performers very early in their careers. 

One more thing -- there's been a lot of buzz about C.J. Fiedorowicz lately, a.k.a. the "next great Iowa tight end." Maybe he is, maybe he isn't, but he is worth keeping an eye on. 

Fear level = 4.



Hands go above the waist.

Style: 4-3, Cover 2. Always.

Key losses: DT Mike Daniels (49.5 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 9 sacks), DE Broderick Binns (46.0 tackles, 12 TFL, 5 sacks), OLB Tyler Nielsen (53.5 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack), CB Shaun Prater (42 tackles, 3 PBU, 1 INT)

Top returners: MLB James Morris (81 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT), OLB Christian Kirksey (86 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT), CB Micah Hyde (60.5 tackles, 8 PBU, 3 INT), S Tanner Miller (64 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 PBU)

Coordinator change -- Norm Parker retired and got replaced by Phil Parker (no relation), who was defensive backs coach for the former Parker at Iowa. It's a significant loss, since Parker had been around for forever, but hiring someone internally means the philosophy won't change much, if at all. We'll see whether the level playcalling takes a hit.

On the player side of things, the Hawkeyes lose all of its significant production from its defensive line (sound familiar?), which bodes poorly for 2011's 62nd-ranked rush defense. Micah Hyde returns as the lone star in the secondary, and he'll certainly have his work cut out for him if Iowa hopes to improve from what their 58th-ranked pass defense from a year ago. 

I don't have much else to say about the Hawkeye defense. They play cover-2 a lot. They don't often blitz (except against Michigan). They like taking two-star guys and milking every last drop of talent from them.

Yeah. Vanilla Iowa defense is vanilla. 

Fear level = 4.


Special Teams

K Mike Meyer (14/20 FG) returns. Woo. I don't know why I still have this section. I think Iowa is replacing last year's punter with a dude from Australia, and I could not be bothered to look up who either of them are right now.



Vanirra Past-o.

Record: Here's how it breaks down, I think.

  • Likely wins: Central Michigan, Indiana;
  • Close, but cigar: Northern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Minnesota;
  • Close, but no cigar: Iowa State, Northwestern, Purdue;
  • Likely losses: Michigan State, Penn State, Michigan, Nebraska

That comes out to about 6-6 overall, 3-5 B1G.

Against Michigan: Michigan's offense had an ill-advised game plan for Iowa last year and executed it horribly during Midwest Windstorm Part II. Things will be better offensively this year, as it will be in the Big House and Al Borges has resigned himself to zone running from shotgun at least for the time being. Michigan will have to be disciplined in the trenches on both sides of the ball as Iowa won a majority of those battles last year, and Michigan's front seven will have to get pressure on Vandenberg early. If Michigan gets to him their entire offensive plan is kaputt, but if Vandenberg gets in a rhythm, he and his receivers have the potential to take over the game. 

I say Michigan ends its three-year drought against the Hawkeyes and wins 35-14.

Their chances of winning the B1G are as good as: KYRU... I BERIEVE IN YOUUUUU.



July 9th, 2012 at 5:26 PM ^

So, Heiko.  I like you.  But I have to really disagree about Vandenberg, or that the passing game shouldn't suffer too much.  There are four things that make a passing game a lot easier - a good QB, a good/great LT, a good/great WR who will catch the ball 82 times a season and score a lot, and a good/great running game that can take pressure off the QB and suck in the defense. 

Last year they had all four of those things.  Riley Reiff went in the first round, McNutt is gone (with no clear "the guy" to replace him), and the running back situation has been detailed.  Sure, Vandenberg is a year older and more experienced.  But how do we think Henne would have done had he been able to stick around an extra year after losing Hart, Long and Manningham (assuming Lloyd stays too, obvi).  He would have been good, but not nearly as productive, and Vandenberg is not Chad Henne. 

I think their offense will take anywhere from a solid to a major step back this year.  Vandenberg was solid last year in the same way Tolzein was solid in his senior year (although slightly less so) - he had a running game that could win a game without the QB throwing ever, a future first round LT and good receivers.  Neither of those guys are good enough to beat good teams without those things.  Iowa no longer has those things. 


July 9th, 2012 at 6:11 PM ^

Your points are all valid, but I'm giving Iowa the benefit of the doubt. I didn't think Reiff was as impressive as everyone made him out to be, and even with him gone, the Iowa folks think they have a good replacement in Brandon Scherff. Offensive line is Ferentz's expertise, so I'll take their word for it. As far as receivers go, Keenan Davis will be the go-to. He was a highly regarded receiver out of high school and had good production even while playing second fiddle to McNutt. Having Fiedeorowicz who's reputedly a big pass catching threat will help their receiving, too. 

That leaves the running game. Yeah, if the running game chokes then Vandenberg will be in a tough spot, so we'll see if any of their fourth-string guys are any good. 

Anyway, it'll definitely be interesting to see what happens with them.


July 9th, 2012 at 6:19 PM ^

I didn't realize they had another left tackle with a double-f waiting in the wings.  That certainly changes things.  Although overrated or now, a first year starter replacing a first round pick is almost always a big drop off.

The big thing to look at - even if the protection and receiver targets work out - is how Vandenberg and Iowa can do as a pass-first team (maybe a pass-only team, at times).  Passing on third and 8 is a lot harder than third and 3.  it will be interesting to see what happens. 

All in all, very good right up though. 


July 9th, 2012 at 6:30 PM ^

While I think you're giving Iowa the benefit of the doubt in assuming the passing game will be ok (and I agree...Davis was sneaky good last year) and that Ferentz will build a decent offensive line that will make the running game at least serviceable, I think your actually pessimistic on the overall record. 6-6 looks to me like approaching a worst case scenario. While Ferentz has struggled against ISU, those struggles have mainly been in Ames. I'd expect them to beat ISU and likely Purdue as well in Iowa City, and I'm going to need to see how Penn St. reacts to O'Brien and their new d coordinator (not to mention the huge shadow that's going to be over everything they do) before I expect anything out of them, particularly on the road.

I'd expect 9-3 more likely than 6-6. Still likely 4th in the division, but they have a very favorable schedule.


July 9th, 2012 at 6:56 PM ^

6-6 could be pessimistic. I was thinking about pegging them at 7-5, but last year's Iowa team went 7-5 in the regular season, and they were a better team than they will be this year. Granted, a couple of their losses were close/to Minnesota, so maybe they were an 8-4/9-3 team last year, but I see 7-5 being the ceiling for this year's Iowa team, not the expected value. Especially if Iowa loses a lot of games early and morale starts to drop, 5-7 isn't out of the question.

The main reason I think their record will suffer is because of defense, not offense. It was fairly mediocre last year, and I don't think they have much talent to replace Mike Daniels or Broderick Binns. Their situation is kind of like Michigan's, but while Michigan loses three important defensive linemen, it's returning the entire back seven. Iowa doesn't have that luxury. 

These previews are admittedly way too early. I will gladly change my predictions for any of these teams once the season starts (that's what Opponent Watch is for, I guess) and we actually have something real to talk about.

For now, my handwaving opinion is that Iowa will lose a bunch of games.


July 9th, 2012 at 7:02 PM ^

No way 9-3.  If 6-6 is near-worst case, then 9-3 is about best-case scenario.  They will lose to Michigan, MSU and Nebraska, almost for sure, and I highly doubt they win against Penn State and at Northwestern.  They're probably beat Purdue, Iowa State and those types of teams, but it's very possible they drop one of those.  I think 7-5 is the most likely outcome, personally.


July 9th, 2012 at 7:20 PM ^

I agree that 9-3 is best case, unless something crazy happens like Martinez being hurt by the time they play Nebraska. But 6-6 looks to me like close to a worst case scenario. Those first 5 games look pillowy soft. I'd expect 8-4, with the three losses you mention plus probably Northwestern.*  Iowa does always seem to drop a game they should win though, so I wouldn't be surprised by 7-5.

I may also be overestimating Ferentz's ability to consistently develop consistently decent linemen and linebackers from middling recruits though. If they don't see some players develop on the d-line, they'll be in trouble, but it always seems to happen, going back to Aaron Kampman.

Anyway, thanks for the preview Heiko.


*I expect Penn State to be bad. They haven't solved their eternal QB debate. They have few decent receivers with a coach who wants to put a passing game in place. They're losing their best player on the defensive line, their secondary is thin, and they lost their best coach in Bradley, replacing him with Ted Roof, who got run out of Auburn in the year they won the national championship. It's defense that's kept PSU above water the past few years and without Bradley, I would not be surprised to see them drop to 6-6 or worse. The divisional strength is going to be very lopsided this year. With OSU ineligible, I'd give any of the top 5 teams on our side of the league a chance to be Wisconsin's main challenger.


July 10th, 2012 at 11:48 AM ^

Just add that we'll know which Iowa team we probably have after Iowa State. Lose that one and it could be a Heiko year. Win it and they're probably undefeated going into MSU (but not coming out), and have a shot to be a one loss team coming to Ann Arbor (though Northwestern will be scary for them). Now, they'll probably biff their last two, but the schedule is not tough.  Penn State is at home, and frankly, Iowa has owned Penn State more than we have, because they didn't have the same swing the last couple of meetings we did. New regime for PSU, but that could be a plus or minus. Depends on how they handle adapting the system.


July 9th, 2012 at 6:05 PM ^

Well one thing have going for the running game is Brad Rogers, who is probably the most underrated FB in the conference. He is a big boy at 5'10'' 230, but can carry the ball quite well. He has been injury plagued (surprise!) for the last couple seasons, but has been getting great reviews this spring. Look for him to have a positive impact on their running game, but whether it's enough to compensate for key personnel losses will only be realized once gameplay begins (obviously).


July 9th, 2012 at 7:04 PM ^

When I first looked at this acronym I thought it said AIRBAG.  Maybe that is what the Iowa coaches should put isnide the running backs uniforms so that they will deploy on conatct to protect the few backs that they have left or maybe they should make them practice in bubble wrap. 


July 9th, 2012 at 7:47 PM ^

I can't see Iowa going only 6-6.  They always manage to post a winning season, even when they're inevitably down to their 5th-string tailback and 3rd-string QB (whose arm is held together by Scotch tape, old-man saliva and Silly Putty) by the end of the season.  



July 9th, 2012 at 7:46 PM ^

Heiko, you always find a way to crack me up.  I particularly enjoyed your wording "Northwestern has made a habit of beating teams strongly associated with corn in recent years".  Keep up the good work!  I enjoy it.  On the subject of Iowa, I see 7-5.  The talent may look weak, but Ferentz is a really solid coach.  4th quarter decision-maker?  Not as sure.  He definitely develops his talent well, though.


July 9th, 2012 at 7:55 PM ^

Woo. I don't know why I still have this section. I think Iowa is replacing last year's punter with a dude from Australia, and I could not be bothered to look up who either of them are right now.



July 10th, 2012 at 8:34 AM ^

Heiko, excellent preview, as always.

We did a preview on Iowa yesterday as well over at the JCB. Its Iowa week all over the place.

Usually high on the Hawks, but way down on them this year. Vandenberg and Davis have to become the best QB/WR in the league this year for them to contend.

On defense? My favorite stat right now for the Hawks is of their projected first string on D, they have six 3-star recruits and five 2-star recruits, and most of this projected starting 11 is in their third year of less. Not very experienced, not very guru approved talented.

We talk a lot about Michigan's defense is still behind the talent 8-ball while we restock like mad....but its already a lot more talented than Iowa's.


July 10th, 2012 at 11:27 AM ^

Despite all the pessimism surrounding Iowa, why do I have a feeling that they Iowa-up some games and go 8-4 or 9-3?  They probably won't be able to run the ball much, but then again the Big 1G is all about passing right now, so maybe they'll get by.  It just looks like one of those schedules where you look up and Iowa is 5-0 going into that MSU game.


July 10th, 2012 at 11:54 AM ^

But that's a pretty cool pic.

But really, that last line of the article was racist, and the OP obviously hates Asian people.*


(*sadly, because there will be that guy, /s)


July 11th, 2012 at 3:04 PM ^

Honestly, there's not a Hawkeye fan out there who knows what to expect this year, so if you find one that thinks they do, just tell them they're full of it.

The success of this year's team will hinge on the performance of the DL.  If we get adequate play from the "band of unknowns" then the Hawks will likely be able to hang a 9-3 or 8-4 record on the board.  Mediocre DL play leads to anything worse.  I'm glad to say that 7-5 is now a disappointing season for me, and I tend to be realistic and not let an Iowa loss ruin my day.  This may very well be a disappointing season, but...

...while this year's team may be young, they aren't lacking for talent and may very well be one of the faster Iowa teams we've seen in a while.

What this Iowa team has going for it:

1. Ferentz will always field a competitive OL.  Some starters from last year may be gone, but this doesn't mean that there's a dearth of experience.

2. Young WR talent.  The old adage is that the further away from the ball, the less complicated the position which lends itself to early playing time for the younger guys.  Iowa has anywhere from 2-4 speedy true frosh receivers who may very well get a lot of PT.  Smith, Mabin, Fleming or Wilson are names to file away.

3. The back seven may not all be returning, but five of them are and are all very solid players.  The LB core is very good (when healthy) and Hyde is the next in what's becoming a longer line of senior CBs drafted.  Look for a more aggressive defensive approach from Phil than we had with Norm.

4. Vandenburg will be a very good QB.  We saw a glimpse of what he could do when comfortable at home, now this year we're expecting a near-similar performance on the road.  If he can pull this off, our offense will be quite potent with or without a running game.

5. The DL isn't as bare as some might think.  Yes, we need to find some guys to really step up, but with the great yelling Kaz off to Nebraska, I think we'll reap the benefits of a much more fatherly Morgan leading the squad.  Alvis should be back after rehabbing an ACL and Bigach, Trinca-Pasat, Gaglione, Cooper and Davis should provide a decent rotation.  It's foolhardy to depend on true frosh in the DL, but there are a couple who could contribute immediately (Johnson, Ekakatie).

I have us at 8-4 and in the Gator Bowl.  I tend to be a little optimistic so 7-5 is the likely finish (again).  Then we'll be breaking in a brand-new QB the following year.  Thus goes the life of a Hawkeye fan.